The New Jersey State Library (NJSL) recently created an online course, Build a Better Library Website Boot Camp, that focuses on how to better plan, test, implement, and update library websites. The boot camp is one of many learning options on the library-focused course platform WebJunction and was funded through a 2020 grant from the LYRASIS Catalyst Fund.
The multidisciplinary team that created the boot camp, led by project manager Andrea Levandowski, wanted to create a space that could help demystify the website world by discussing the basics of subjects such as user experience (UX) design in a clear, guided format. The boot camp is free and self-paced, allowing those who wish to learn more about the nuances of website design and management to engage with the course material without time constraints.
A History of Success
The new boot camp was designed based on the in-person NJSL UX Boot Camp held in 2019. This previous training course took place over several weeks, when small groups of participants covered information such as how to make their library website more informative and how to properly analyze their library website in an audit. Those who attended this previous boot camp found immense value in the material that was covered. Kevin Ruppel from South Brunswick Public Library stated after attending the 2019 boot camp that “[my] next steps were 100% shaped by the boot camp. Before I was a bit aimless on what needs to be done and was just improving little things here and there. This boot camp allowed [me] to zero in on the important aspects of redesigning the website and be more focused in my efforts.”
If you attended the NJSL UX Boot Camp (or have attended something similar in the past), the Build a Better Library Website Boot Camp should still be something you’ll want to check out. Levandowski tells me that the new course has increased the content related to website accessibility. “During the NJSL UX Boot Camp, we realized that this was an area that was of interest among attendees, but the curriculum did not cover more than very basic content,” she says. “I anticipate that there may also be individuals who register for the course just to learn about website accessibility because it is such an important topic.”
Learn the Essentials
The boot camp has eight modules that must be finished to receive a certificate of completion: Intro to UX, Visual Design Principles, Prototyping & Testing, Layout & Images, Website Navigation, Accessibility, Web Technology, and Project Management. These modules introduce a wide variety of material—everything from user testing to adding media to your library website—in an easy-to-understand format. At the end of the boot camp, the course offers a final project; it is not necessary to complete the final project to receive the certificate.
Each module includes at least one interactive experience for users to participate in, labeled Explore, Activity, or DIY. The Explore experiences highlight different sections of a website to show what was implemented successfully and what could still use updating. The Activity experiences help cement important subjects for participants using interactive visual guides. For example, an Activity in the Web Technology module has participants indicate the differences between WordPress and Squarespace in a drag-and-drop application. The DIY experiences offer guided instructions to help you check your own library website for needed improvements, giving you the opportunity to immediately apply new concepts that you learned in the boot camp.
The boot camp is listed on WebJunction as taking 4–8 hours to complete. If participants would prefer to dig into a specific subject instead of completing the whole course, Levandowski says the team has planned for that: “[T]he course does not have to be approached in a linear fashion. In our discussions, we realized that people may want to focus on certain sections, go back to things, and skip parts. While a learner would have to read through every section and complete all activities to receive a certificate, the course itself is a reference that can be used in whichever ways are appropriate.”
The Future of Your Website
Levandowski suggests that once you have completed the boot camp, you may want to consider training that is specific to the platform or hosting services your library is working with already. However, you may not need to leave the boot camp behind in your search for more information. While there are no concrete plans for updating or expanding the current content, Levandowski mentions that “in the next year or so, I will be looking into a process for having the course reviewed and refreshed on a regular basis.”
Additionally, Levandowski hopes to mimic the in-person experience by having more connection among participants in the boot camp in the future. “Much of the [NJSL UX] Boot Camp was … discussion based,” she says, “and they shared their favorite websites, discussed their own websites, and opened up about the issues they were facing with the website redesign process. It is impossible to [re-create] that experience online in a meaningful way.” WebJunction “suggested creating a guide specific for the Build a Better Library Website Boot Camp so that groups could have course-specific information to help them build an in-person learning experience alongside the online course. It is something that I will be pursuing because I think it is so important for participants to share their experiences directly and learn from one another.”
With the new boot camp providing knowledge and support, Levandowski sees a brighter future for library websites: “[M]any smaller libraries don’t have dedicated staff with the expertise needed to improve their websites, even when they know something is not right or they are interested in fixing it. The Build a Better Library Website Boot Camp is intended to help those library staff members become more confident, learn skills to guide them toward solutions, and work with others (either internally or consultants) to build better websites.”